This is the next post in my series highlighting different careers in the video game industry.
Today I am going to cover the career of a video game journalist.
What does a video game journalist do?
Video game journalists have several responsibilities.
- Writing reviews – This is the one that probably gets most people into this career initially. A video games journalist plays through a game and then writes a review of it. Depending on the publication, this may include a numbered score.
- Publishing press releases – When a publisher or developer wants to reach a wide audience with an announcement (say a release date for a highly anticipated game), they will issue a press release to video game sites. Those sites will then write a post about the release, with some adding commentary and others just posting the announcement.
- Writing opinion pieces – Some times a video game journalist will write an opinion piece on the goings on in the video game industry. This might be about an announcement made by a publisher, about the state of a game, or the state of the industry in general.
- Covering industry events – There are several industry events throughout the year, including E3 and PAX. A video game journalist may be sent to one of these events to cover announcements and demos from publishers and developers.
There are two distinct job categories in video game journalism, freelance and salaried.
A freelance writer is a hired gun. He will get an assignment from a particular site or magazine for a specific article. He will then be paid for that article. He does not work for the publication.
There are advantages and disadvantages to being a freelancer.
- A freelance writer can take assignments for a variety of publications. Since he is not tied to any one, he can pitch several at the same time.
- A freelancer also has a lot more freedom. Since he is not an employee, he can live where he wants. This would allow him to live somewhere less expensive.
- A freelancer is completely responsible for his taxes and benefits, such as health insurance. This can take a chunk out of the money he makes.
- Successful freelancers have to work extremely hard to continue to land assignments. It takes a lot of hustle to do it well.
- The income of a freelancer can be unpredictable. If there are no assignments, there is no money.
The other route to go is a salaried position at a publication. This gives some stability over being a freelancer, with a steady income and things like taxes and benefits covered.
The problem with salaried positions is they are extremely hard to get. Most video game publications are not making huge profits. The positions they have are limited and tend to be kept by those who can get them.
How much money is there to be made doing this?
This question is a bit harder to answer than with the two previous careers I covered (Streamer/YouTuber and Programmer). The best article I could find is on Games Radar from 2011. Here are a couple interesting snippets:
The average we found for full-time freelance writers (removing the highest and lowest figures to keep things more accurate) was $26,000 per year.
When working for a website [as a salaried employee], there seem to be three different income brackets. For starting employees on the lowest rung, the average is around $32,000 (associate editor, assistant editor). More senior employees (senior editor, managing editor) can later hope to move up to around $50,000. While we weren’t able to get an online editor in chief to respond, we expect there’s a similar bump.
As you can see, no one is getting rich doing this. It is a lot of hard work for not a lot of money. But for someone who is passionate about video games and writing, it can be worth it.
How would my gamer get started?
There are a few things I would say to a young gamer interested in being a video game journalist.
Read – The first thing your gamer needs to do is read other game journalist. A lot. He should find sites, both big and small, and critically read the articles they post. How do they structure the articles? What things are important in their reviews? How do they disclose relationships with developers and publishers, if at all?
Here are some big and small sites to check out: PC Gamer, Polygon, Rock, Paper, Shotgun, Gamasutra, Niche Gamer, Gamer Headlines
- Write – The next thing I would recommend is that your gamer create his own blog and start writing about the games he is playing. He can get practice writing and get feedback from his friends and family.
- Books – There are a couple books I recommend to anyone looking to go this career route. They are Up Up Down Down Left WRITE: The Freelance Guide to Video Game Journalism and Critical Path: How to Review Videogames for a Living